Friday, 27 August 2010

'Corpse Candles' - the scent of death.

In 1837 a new type of candle became available - the 'Composition Candle.' - Burning cleanly, but a similar cost as inferior tallow candles, they became an overnight success. So why then, did they acquire the nickname 'Corpse Candles'?
They were created by a French scientist who separated tallow into two parts; one liquid, and one solid which he called 'stearine.' The stearine had a higher melting point than crude tallow and a secret ingredient prevented the candles becoming brittle. The Frenchman sold his 'secret' recipe to English manufacturers and for two years, 1835-36 they were wildly successful...until a English chemist extinguished his candle one night and smelt an alarming odour....

Mr Everitt, Professor of Chemistry noted an 'Abominable stinking smell like garlic,' the characteristic smell given off by arsenical vapours. The Westminster Medical Society investigated and confirmed the 'secret' ingredient to be arsenic; odourless while the candle burnt but released when the candle was extinguished and the wick smouldering The Society put forward a chilling scenario:
'Let us suppose London's Theatre Royal, Drury Lane were lighted with stearine candles [each chandelier held 152 tapers]...608 grains of arsenious acid would be vaporised and floating in the air during the performance.'

Warnings against using the 'Corpse Candles' were posted in the press. However unscrupulous manufacturers with large stocks, marketed their candles as 'pure wax.' In 1837 new companies such as 'Pearl Wax Lights' guaranteed their products 'solemnly and unequivocably'  arsenic free gained the public's confidence, especially when it was discovered simple chalk was just as effective at preventing brittleness.
Postcript - having not learnt lessons from the past, the arsenic problem recurred in 1859...only this time the cause was a colouring - Scheele's Green (the key ingredient was arsenic), which gave a bright vibrant green colour...the fashion of the day.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Alexandre Dumas - the writing day.

Alexandre Dumas.

Alexandre Dumas 'Rogues are preferable to imbeciles because they sometimes take a rest.'

If you read blogs about romance novels it seems obligatory to learn about the author's writing day. Mine is far to boring (write where I can when I can - simple as that) and whilst researching I came across a note about famouns writer, Alexandre Dumas's writing day that struck me as far more interesting.
Most people at some time have encountered Alexandre's work whether they know it or not. A man ahead of his time, a born story teller he wrote such classics as 'The Three Muskateers,' 'The Count of Monte Cristo', 'The Man in the Iron Mask' and 'The Lady of the Camellias' - to name but a few.
The illegitimate son of a dressmaker and a play write, Dumas' writing career grew from a shabby flat in Paris, at Number 22, Rue de Rivoli. Sparsely furnished wiht a white wooden table, two ricketty chairs and a rusty iron bedstead, he wrote with a vengance. His personal quota was to achieve 20 polished pages a day, quite some achievement by any standards. Such was his single mindedness that in 1842, arguably his most productive year, he finished 'The Count of Monte Cristo' mid afternoon, but having only written 15 pages that day, instead of celebrating he stayed at his desk to pen the opening 5 pages of 'The Three Muskateers.'
In time his single mindedness was rewarded because he was also ahead of his time in marketting his work. He adapted his work to the stage, as 'Muskateers of the Queen', opened his own theatre and established a magazine 'Le Mousequetaire.' Doubtless Alexandre would havebeen thrilled to know his works are still alive and well today, reborn in the cinematic world.
Dumas' most widely known work, 'The Three Muskateers,' was inspired by the true story of the Queen's diamonds. In this 'truth is stranger than fact' tale, in 17th century France, Anne of Austria married to the King Louis XIII, a practising homosexual, is given a fabulous diamond necklace. Starved of marital affection Anne falls in love with the handsome Duke of Buckingham and foolishly gives him the necklace. Louis then insists Anne wears the diamond necklace to a grand ball and unless she can produce it will be dishonoured and publicly humiliated. A new recruit to the Muskateers, Treville, eager to prove himself volunteers to retrieve the diamonds taking reckless risks to do so. However Buckingham's mistress, Lucy Percy (a direct descendant of Mary Boleyn and King Henry VIII) is jealous and steals two of the largest diamonds and sends them to Anne's deadliest enemy....Cardinal Richelieu...makes you want to read the book all over again!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Nude or Prude? Victorian attitudes to sea bathing.

I am currently researching Georgian and Victorian attitudes to marriage and after a particularly pleasing foray into a second hand bookshop yesterday, came home with a real gem - 'The Perfect Wife,' by Rona Randall.
Skimming through this passage caught my eye, about Victorian attitudes to nudity. In short, in the Victorian bedroom nudity was to be avoided at all costs. Even sisters sharing a bedroom would stand back to back, and undress beneath voluminous night gowns. Indeed husband's often disrobed in an ajoining room to don his night shirt and didnt enter the bed chamber until his wife was safely attired in biloowing nightgown and frilly cap.
With this in mind it came as a shock to read that some Victorians thought nothing of bathing nude in the sea! The invention of swimming costumes came as late as 1870 and before this the options were a bathing hut wheeled into the see or to cavort naked in the waves. It seems many preferred the later and in the summer local newspaper correspondance columns were full of complaints about the;
'shameless seaside cavortings of loose women and unblushing men...'
However one naked bather, the Rev Francis Kilbert, was anything but loose. In his diary he extols the delights of nude sea bathing and complains about,
'the detestable custom of bathing drawers that are now becoming de rigeur.'
It seems he created quite a stir at Seaton 1873 when unaware of the new requirement for wearing bathing suites, especially as;
'the young ladies strolling near seemed to have no objection.'
One newspaper, the Saturday Review, commented on the habit of some women activley seeking out male nude bathers;
'There they sit [women] happy, innocent, undistrubed - placidly and immovably gaze at hundreds of males in the costume of Adam.'
Who'd have thought it!

Friday, 20 August 2010

On Cheryl Cole, malaria....considerations from history.

Doubtless the UK is breathing a sigh of relief that national treasure, Cheryl Cole, has recovered from her recent unpleasant experience of malaria. It is sobering to acknowledge that in the 18th century, one didnt have to journey to exotic parts to catch the illness but the marshes of Essex sufficed.
Daniel Defoe, (author of Robinson Crusoe) indeed met a man who had been married fifteen times; his wives having died at the rate of one a year, from malaria.
As Defoe writes:
'The reason, a merry fellow told me, who said he had had about a dozen and a half wives, wath this; that he being bred in the marshes...and seasoned to the place, did pretty well with it, but he always went up into the uplands for a wife. That when he took the young lasses out of the wholesome and fresh air, they were healthy, fresh and clean and well; but when they camoe out of their native air into the marshes among the fogs and damps, there they presently changed their complexion, got an ague or two,and seldom held it about half a year, or a year at most; and then, said he, he went to the uplands again and fetch another...'

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

A Guide to the Female Sex.

A woman's role in the 17th century was to be subservient to her husband. In 1675 Hannah Woolley produced a useful guide to help the sisterhood of women who's almost inevitable fate it was to marry. The volume was intitled, 'The Gentlewoman's Companion or A Guide to the Female Sex,' by this she means a guide as to how the female sex should behave!
Some of the more salient points on married life include:

- It is your duty to hide his (the husband's) faults and infirmities, neither to discover them yourself nor cause them to be discovered.

- Be careful to keep the house in good as to disengage his fancy for taverns which many are compelled to use by reason of dissatisfaction at home.

- Be quiet, pleasant and peaceable to him (the husband, endeavour to pacify him with sweet and winning expressions.

- Breed up your children into as much if not more to him than yourself, and keep them in awe so they show so much awe rather than rudeness to him.

and finally:

- suffer not your expenses to exceed the receipt of your husband's income.

For mor historical comment see also:

Monday, 16 August 2010

Whistler's mother...and the doctor's front door!

Portraits, painting and art are a recurring theme throughout 'A Dead Man's Debt', which put me in mind for today's blog of the true story of the famour artist Whistler, his pet dog and an eminent throat specialist.

Famous American artist James Whistler (1843 - 1903) created such masterpieces as 'Whistler's Mother,' (immortalised in the first Mr Bean movie!) and was also a great animal lover. He owned a tortoiseshell cat and also a french poodle, of whom he was particularly fond. When his favourite became unwell Whistler called on the services of a distinguished ENT specialist. The doctor arrived, but on finding his patient was canine rather than human, was distinctly un-amused. Only in view of his client's fame, reluctantly the doctor agreed to examine the animal and prescribed a cure.

The next day Whistler recieved an urgent summons from the eminent specialist. Thinking it was to do with his beloved dog, Whistler dropped everything and hastened over. The Doctor greeted him warmly with the following words;
'Good morning Mr Whistler, now I needed to see you about the painting of my front door.'

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Charles Darwin on 'The expense and anxiety of children.'

In my novel 'A Dead Man's Debt',Celeste Armitage has resolved not to marry.
Repelled by the unwanted advances of a lascivious Viscount she cannot see the attraction of marriage and added to this the disadvantages a woman endured when she married it is easy to understand her opinion.
For one thing, prior to the late 19th century, when she married a woman acquired the same legal status as a lunatic, a ward or an outlaw. Since 1066 a woman became her husband's property on marriage - indeed this was the single most important way of transferring land, valuables and property, so whatever belonged to the woman, now belonged to the man!
To make matters worse appalling double standards applied. Because of primogeniture (the eldest son inheriting absolutely everything) a husband had to be certain any offspring were his and so society expected the wife to be wholey faithful (at least until and heir and a spare had been produced!), whilst the wife was expected to turn a blind eye to her husband's infidelities!
As Dc Johnson wrote:
'Chastity in a woman is all important, because the whole of property is involved in it.'
In the 18th century John Milton reflected on the mutual comfort of marriage;
'To abate the separateness, the loneliness of the individual.'
It was from this concept of mutual compatability that the ideal of divorce of the grounds of incompatability eventually developed.
Indeed Charles Darwin approached the question of marriage in an entirely logical manner. When considering whether to propose or not he wrote two lists. Under 'Marry' he entered, 'A constant companion, a friend in old age,' and 'good for one's health.'
Under 'Not Marry' he wrote, 'The expense and anxiety of children.'
How right he was!

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Exciting news! Book Trailer now available to view.

I'm thrilled to announce that the book trailer for my debut novel, 'A Dead Man's Debt' is now available to view on YouTube.
For an exciting flavour of what the novel is about please view the trailer at:

You are among the first to view this book trailer. I would value comments and criticism, but more than anything I hope you enjoy it!

Friday, 13 August 2010

Casanova's Parrot.

Famous womaniser, writer and inventor of the lottery, Giacoma Casanova, travelled to London at the age of 37. He rented a house in Pall Mall and because his english was so poor, hired a manservant to translate for him. Casanova moved in esteemed social circles that included the king of the day George III.
However whilst in London a beautiful young Swiss woman, Charpillon, came to his attention. As their relationship grew Casanova even rented a plush house in Chelsea for Charpillon, her mother and several aunts. However things turned rapidly sour with Charpillon accusing Casanova of grievous bodily harm, a crime which potentially carried a life sentence.
Casanova was arrested, incarcerated at Newgate and called up before the blind magistrate Sir John Fielding (half brother of novellist Henry Fielding.) How the magistrate saw throughCharpillon's unjust accusation and Casanova was cleared.
This left Casanova chewing over how best to get revenge. The perfect solution came as he walked through a market and he saw a young parrot. He bought the bird and hung the cage by his bedside where dozens of times a day he would repeat the phrase:
'Charpillon is a bigger whore than her mother.'
The parrot was a quick learner and added his own finishing touch of cackling laughter after each repetition.
Casanova then sold the bird in high society, where several Lords who had had similiar misuse competed to buy the bird.
Casanova achieved his aim; Charpillon was shamed and the beauty of it was that a parrot cant be accussed of slander!

Thursday, 12 August 2010

The 'original' Grace Elliot.

Grace Dalyrmple Elliot  1754 -1823
'Dally the Tall.'

My namesake, Grace Elliot, was an extraordinary woman with an instinct for self preservation. She witnessed the events of the French revolution, was mistress to a cousin of LouisXIV, was arrested and sentenced to be guillotined but after a last minute reprieve went on to write a fascinating account of her adventures; 'Ma Vie Sous La Revolution.'

Grace was born in Scotland and her parents were unusual in that they separated early and sent Grace to be educated abroad at a French convent. As a young woman she returned to England and was described as being 'Tall, with striking features, an appealing figure and intelligent.' She went on to use her formidable charm to ensnare an elderly doctor, Dc John Elliot, who just happened to mix in royal circles.
Their marriage was a disaster. Lively young Grace became bored with her dowdy husband and quickly took a lover, Lord Valentia. Although Valentia was of; 'Athletic form and agreeable countenance' he was also the archetypal love rat and abandoned Grace at the first hint of trouble. When Dc Elliot found out about the affair he sued for divore, a messy business in the 18th century. To salvage her damaged reputation Grace's brother all but kidnapped her and despatched Grace back to the French convent. However he had reckonned without Grace's loyal admirers, one of whom, Lord Cholmondley, rescued Grace and brought her back to London as a courtesan.
It was around this time she had a brief affair with the Prince of Wales and bore a daughter, Georgina Frederica Augusta Elliot, who she claimed was his. The Prince introduced her to the Duke of Orleans in 1784 and the couple moved to Paris, to become embroiled in the events of the French revolution.
In 1793 the Duke was executed and Grace was imprisoned under sentence of death for assisting aristocrats to flee the country. Luckily, she was freed after Robespierre's death and returned to the safey of London.
Grace remained a successful courtesan to the end of her life, dying in 1823 as the mistress of the mayor of Ville d'Avray.

Further information about Grace Elliot (old and new!) can be found on my website.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Welcome to my blog!

Hello there,
Hopefully you found this blog because you love history/romance/cats or all three!
My aim is for this to be a depository of interesting information for all of the above!
In time I hope to transfer my previous blog from :   to here.
Now let me introduce myself: I am a companion animal vet with a love of all things historical. I am addicted to books and as an excuse to amass an extensive library of historical non-fiction, I turned to writing - well that's what my husband thinks anyway!
My favourite time periods are the Georgian and Regency, oh yes and Victorian and come to think of it Tudor, and actually medieval is pretty interesting - OK I give in - I love it all and will bring you tasters from my world in future blogs.